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More than 5,000 members of the UK armed forces - many from the South Coast - are starting the largest military exercise in Europe this year.
The Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious is one of 24 ships involved in Joint Warrior, which runs until 29th April in the waters off, skies above and land of Scotland.
More than a dozen Royal Navy (RN) warships and submarines are committed to the annual war game, which will be directed from Faslane at Clyde Naval Base. British warships will be joined by more than 30 visiting warships, 40 fixed-wing aircraft and 30 helicopters.
Alongside RN, RAF and Army personnel taking part in Joint Warrior, forces from the Netherlands, Canada, France, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Sweden and German are involved – nearly 12,000 military personnel in all.
Other Royal Navy participants include Plymouth based flagship HMS Bulwark, HMS Sutherland, HMS Montrose, survey ship HMS Echo and submarine HMS Talent, Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond, HMS Westminster and HMS Richmond.
A small group of mine-hunters (HM Ships Brocklesby, Hurworth, Pembroke and Grimsby) will also be providing the mine-counter-measures capability. All the ships will be supported by supply ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay.
Royal Marines from 42 Commando; 30 Commando; the Commando Logistics Regiment; 539 Assault Squadron; and Army commandos from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, which combine to form 3 Commando Brigade’s ‘Lead Commando Group’, will provide the UK element of the amphibious landing force alongside Dutch and French marines.
The scenario will cover a broad range of circumstances including evolving crisis and conflict situations which cover disputed territory, conventional and non-conventional maritime and amphibious threats such as counter-piracy and terrorist activity.
The scenarios will develop over two weeks, increasing in tension and uncertainty into stimulated operations and potential state on state hostilities.
Aerial support will be provided by RAF Chinooks and Junglie Sea Kings of the Yeovilton-based Commando Helicopter Force, plus ‘eye-in-the-sky’ Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall, as well the Lynx and Merlins of the destroyers and frigates taking part.
For the Commander UK Task Group, Commodore Paddy McAlpine OBE ADC and his staff, Joint Warrior 13 (there are two such exercises each year) is a chance to put into practise lessons from the Royal Navy’s key deployment last year, Exercise Cougar.
That deployment, spearheaded by HMS Bulwark and HMS Illustrious, saw the task group work first with the French off Toulon and Corsica, then with the Albanians in the Adriatic.
HMS Illustrious' Captain Martin Connell, says:
"Exercises like this are absolutely vital for us to test ourselves. We've got Chinook helicopters from the Royal Air Force, we've got Royal Navy helicopters, Army helicopters - as well as 42 Commando Royal Marines. It's quite busy on board, we've got about 1,100 people on board."
Brigadier Martin Smith MBE, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and Commander of the Landing Force during exercise Joint Warrior, said:
“Joint Warrior 13 presents an unrivalled opportunity to practise the types of operations that we might be asked to undertake elsewhere in the world.
"The scale and tempo of Joint Warrior enables us to maintain a high level of preparedness against the most demanding of those tasks.
"Operating with a Dutch battlegroup and a French company under command provides an extra degree of realism for us within an already demanding contemporary scenario.
"Given the likelihood of any military response to an emerging crisis requiring multinational forces, opportunities to train with some of our closest partners, with whom we interact within the European Amphibious Initiative, are very valuable.”